C says /k/. Carnivore in a cabin. /k/.
His voice enters my head. I hear him climbing the stairs toward my bedroom. Shunk! Dull steel stabbing wooden stairs echoes through the cabin. Tick-tick-tick-tick. He taunts, tapping the staircase railing with metal claws.
A says /a/. Attacking in the attic. /a/.
Thump. Thump. Creeping legs are a drumbeat of dread. His lifeless tail drags behind him, demanding silence. Shh. Paralyzed with something beyond fear, I watch. I see what he sees.
T says /t/. Trembling with terror. /t/. What’s that spell?
Wrong. What’s that spell!?
You’ve been reading my literacy books again. C-a-t spells cat.
Wrong. C-a-t spells death.
The books aren’t helping. I can’t move. What did you do to me?
You joke, but soon, you die. I gave you a little something to keep you calm until I arrive.
Shunk! Tick-tick-tick-tick. Thump. Thump. Shh.
What’s wrong with you?
What are you doing?
I’m coming to take back what’s mine, Pops.
Shunk! Tick-tick-tick-tick. Thump. Thump. Shh.
Your fang? Take it. It’s yours.
I’ll take more than that.
What’s gotten into you?
You should know. You made me.
Silence smothers me. I rationalize, the monster is a shadow in my mind. Horrifying realization, I lie helpless because the monster resides in my mind. He paralyzed me.
I stare at the plywood door. Dilated pupils capture every image in the night. I visualize my impending demise from both sides of the door. On one side, I lie helpless on my bed, his next victim. On the other side, Patton stalks up the stairs, my relentless feline monster.
Lightning erupts outside the cabin. My prism-shaped room shakes, a trembling casket. Pulsing light shatters the darkness, coniferous silhouettes climbing angled walls.
Sunken clouds engulf the moonlit night. A turquoise hue fills the room.
Cold sleet spits through the window screen, whipped by the midnight wind, drenching my face with liquid fear. Unable to speak, my thoughts scream. I see what he sees.
The storm kills the power. Fragile light and ruthless dark battle for control of the night. Darkness wins, devouring my A-frame shack.
An orange glow seeps through the cracks around the door. The stove downstairs burns. The stove’s glow disappears, replaced by a shadow. Patton arrives.
He tests the door, taunting. Thin plywood bows inward, only a hook and loop lock keeping it shut. My eyes transfix on the breathing door. I see what he sees. It won’t hold him for long.
The door is weak like you, Pops.
My hunting knife stabs through the door frame. Its serrated blade tickles the lock, trying to unlatch it. Unable, the blade retreats.
Patton studies the door’s grain, looking for weaknesses. I peer at the same area. We stare at the same point in space, from opposite sides. If not for the door, we would look into each other’s eyes.
Pockets of air pop within the fire downstairs. The cabin trembles with dying light. Patton’s pupils widen, dilated with hate. He’s still an animal, a slave to instinct, hunt and kill.
You can’t control it, right Patton?
I’m in complete control. I want my fang back.
Rain pelts the screened window, its castoff blurring my vision. His view sharpens. He claws at the door with metal lathes, coiling ribbons of wood falling from knotted wounds. Lightning unveils snapshots of my crypt. Only the door separates paralyzed limbo and stalking perdition.
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.
A pinhole appears in the middle of the door. He peeks through, toying with me, batting my nerves, a wounded mouse in his grasp.
The knife’s blade stabs through the door. Firelight bleeds from the breach. His ravenous eyes shimmer in the fractured darkness. I sense his malicious anger. Lightning flashes, unveiling his nasty grin, minus one fang.
Rain rips through the screen in a rusty mist. The forest’s needled silhouettes attack—unbearable, unstoppable. The storm’s strobe renders images in a series of flashes, rapid-fire dread.
Gleaming claws creep through the rift. Lightning ignites the hate in Patton’s eyes. The size and color of an albino cheetah, he oozes through the door. He leaves my knife behind, carrying eight of his own.
Stepping onto the bed, his steel claws shred fabric. He heaves above me, three feet tall on all fours. I see what he sees: my fear, my regret, my demise.
He crawls under the quilt and between my legs. Dropping his weight, he coils and twitches. Ready to strike, his warm, wet fur quivers.
My fang? his thoughts crucify.
Jolting, weight lowered, he lands on my naked chest. He must weigh well over one hundred pounds.
Patton, what have you become?
You did this. You made me what I am.
Dirty rain blinds me. I see only what he sees. I look dead before him. My shallow breaths wave the image. Staccato atmosphere flashes, cinema torment, my own snuff flick.
No more games, Pops.
Metal claws protract. He clears my eyes with prosthetic hands, making me watch both sides. He stares, makes me stare. His eyes project my dire relegation. My eyes reflect the strobing horror. The images coalesce and incinerate.
My glistening neck tremors and sweats. His stalking weight suffocates me. He feels it, lowering further. My throat quivers. A thin, black necklace wavers above pulsing blood, carrying his fang. With one swipe he could claim it, along with my life. Warm drool spills over me, dripping with pernicious lust.
His thoughts silence. My breaths desiccate, retinas capture final images. His tattered hand reaches for my neck. Deadly claws protrude through his mangled flesh, scratching my skin. My throat recoils, skin tears. The blades draw down and the cuts widen, flesh slithering through. Claws wrap around his stolen fang and my exposed flesh.
His hands, unnatural abominations, each wield four silver claws and two bionic thumbs. What he’s become, his being, is my doing, my fault.
We’re locked in dual providence. My ideas formed the cast. His mind filled the mold. Together, we unleashed the creature, a tortured being enduring the unbearable war between instinct and judgement. Tonight, instinct prevails. Judgement succumbs. Kill. Kill. Kill.
I force my vision inward, to the back of my mind. In the shadows of mortal imminence, grave resignation smolders. Ignorant sanctuary beckons me. I search for my Proxy, my cosmic muse, the mystical concierge who channels the shrapnel of my incendiary mind. He awaits deployment, hiding in a neural bunker at the edge of conscious thought, far from the mental front where it’s clean and peaceful.
I’ve neglected him lately, forgotten his origin, his purpose. There’s no time for inspiration when you’re surrounded by regret, disappointment, and death. I’ve chosen to forget; there’s no better time for inspiration. It’s much easier to wallow.
Life paralyzed me long before Patton.
Many years ago, shortly after mother died, intense inspiration struck me, and my Proxy appeared for the first time. A coping mechanism, no doubt—he acted as diving rod, aggregator, and translator for the furious onslaught of visions in my mind. He called the inspiration a Spark.
He told me to write, document every glimmer of imagination entering my mind. I built imaginary worlds and populated them with fantastic devices and alien friends. Unlike everyone real, they bowed to my will, like my Proxy.
Every piece of information flowing through me had one thing in common: a planet. It was like none other I’d encountered, real or fictional; a conjoined binary, terrestrial system orbiting proudly within the habitable zone of a K-type orange dwarf star.
I sought refuge in imagination, withdrawing from the so-called real world. Entrenched in actualization, my circles disappeared. My fabricated sanctuary, however, proved an inadequate shelter.
I needed tangible companionship, more than any pure human or mere animal provided. Yearning for something with which to interact on a sapient level, yet still abide my alienating nature, I opened my mind. That’s when my Proxy delivered the second Spark and gave me a solution, seemingly unrelated to the first.
If only my cats had more human qualities. If they had human hands, they could evolve into them. Catalyzed inspiration consumed me once more, but this time in the form of pure, unbridled insanity.
I recruited the few humans left around me to help carry out my experiments. And Patton, well, he gave me the push to finish the job. I altered Phreyja, Herbert, and Patton, none of whom turned out as I imagined. No idea achieves the perfection of reality.
And now, Patton, a construct meant to mend my broken spirit, instead means to tear it apart.
You still with me, Pops? Patton corrals my drifting mind.
I’ve always been with you. I wish we were back home with Herbert and Phreyja, before all this happened. I wish I could rub your belly and ease your mind right now.
Too late for that. There’s no going back.
The quest for my Proxy deepens, pulling me further back from lucidity. My mind darkens, engaging protective needles to thwart reality. As I wander somewhere in my cerebrum’s sub-levels, he reappears.
Through the black, subconscious void, my Proxy returns. My imaginary doppelganger sits cross-legged in a sea of darkness. He draws his hands forward and cups them. Holographic light appears above his upturned palms. A glowing green sphere twists off-center in space—a planet, my sanctuary. Behind it, a smaller, darker sphere emerges, not a moon.
An instant calm consumes me. I become one with my Proxy. Warm, green light saturates my consciousness, blocking out the pain, the terror, the regret. Belligerent acceptance washes over me, salvages me.
What are you doing? Patton’s thoughts fracture the calm. Why are your eyes green? His claws twitch beneath my necklace and throat.
That’s just my mind. I’m trying to make this as painless as possible.
No, Pops, your fucking eyes are green. I’m in your head and I can tell the difference between green fucking thoughts and green fucking eyes.
My Proxy snaps back into nothingness. All focus returns to Patton’s and my vision, his vision accurate. A cascade of green eyes assaults me—mine, his, the reflection of mine in his, the reflection of his in mine. The source of light lies not within me, it comes from beyond the bedroom door, from the cabin itself.
Skit-skit-skit. Noises trickle through the angled, drywall ceiling. Skit-skit-skit.
What’s that? My thoughts shudder.
I don’t know. You tell me. Maybe it’s just a mouse.
That’s not a mouse. My throat trembles under Patton’s claws. He pulls the necklace and my flesh taut, wondering which will break first. Every muscle in Patton’s body tenses above me, on high alert.
Don’t move. He steadies himself.
Don’t move? You paralyzed me.
Pretty neat, eh? Now quiet. This is serious.
A black, amorphous blur the size of a potbellied pig explodes through the hole in the bedroom door, leaving nothing but a burnt, dripping circle in its wake. Not human, not animal, the globulous shadow slams into Patton’s side, hurtling him from my chest, claws still attached to my neck.
As Patton flies off the side of the bed, his steel talons tear through my neck. They puncture my trachea and slice through skin and muscles. Blood gushes from fresh wounds. I gag and cough, ejecting a crimson shower over the ceiling and walls. Shades of black, red, and off-white swirl. Oxygen rushes into my dissected throat. My brain inhales the horror. Images brand my retinas in the stippled darkness.
Lying in paralyzed silence, I lose Patton. Blood bubbles from my breached trachea. Dehydrated death approaches.
Oh my god, what did you do? my mind screams.
Shit. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. I couldn’t help myself. I was just kidding. What the fuck is on me?
Neurons dying fiery, green deaths attack my eyes. The struggle beside me hides from view, my head and eyes fixed. Sounds of frenzied battle fill the small room. The bedside lamp capsizes amid the fight.
What the fuck is going on, Patton?
Through Patton’s eyes, I see the melee. White fur, red blood, and slimy yellow and black streaks swirl on the plywood floor.
I’m being attacked!
I would help you, but you paralyzed me and ripped a hole in my throat.
Fuck. I would help you, but I’m gettin’ my ass kicked by an alien pot roast.
Patton tries to choke the little monster, grabbing at slick skin. Its hideous form flashes behind my eyes.
It doesn’t have a face! I gasp.
The alien possesses no head at all, just a hole of liquid skin sucking into itself and flowing through to its other end. Its membrane bubbles and slides beneath Patton’s claws. Pinning my overgrown cat in the corner of the room, an army of tiny legs squirm and grab, trying to get a hold of its prey.
Patton gets his thick hind legs under the greasy parasite. From his back, he kicks as hard as possible and launches the organic pustule into the far wall of the A-framed ceiling. The slug peels itself off the ruby-stained drywall and plummets to the floor on the other side of the bed.
Get me out of this so I can help, Patton.
Pops, I’m so fucking sorry. You know I’m unbalanced.
You’re sick. I’m sick. This is all my fault.
Patton springs to his feet. Alien mucous covers his matted fur, laced with something not even Patton is able to defend against. His vision tremors, mind skews. The assailant’s covert, oozing recovery resonates.
I’m working on it. Patton jumps on the bed and slides between my legs.
What the fuck are you doing?
The slug recovers, the trampling of tiny legs drawing closer.
This will hurt. Patton prepares to release me from my chemical shackles. Incredible, he developed complete control of his hormones, dispensing them like drugs.
Oh, this will hurt?
Blood streams from my dissected neck. I realize he at least killed my pain before he tried to kill me. Now, he’s prepared to restore my freedom in agony.
I fucking hate you, Patton.
You fucking love me.
Patton draws three enamel spears to my inner thigh. He salivates, moistening the area. Three fangs stab into my flesh. Rejuvenating pain explodes within. Sensory pathways scream. Motor pathways panic; kindergarteners in a fire drill.
A bloody scream pours from my tattered throat. My body convulses to life, forcing the blood out more vigorously. I slam my hands, already wrapped in bloody socks, against my spattering neck.
What the hell happened to my hands?
You don’t remember? That was round one. You lost.
This must be round two.
Cough! Cough! Chunky red loogies erupt from my mouth and ruptured throat. Before I thank Patton for not allowing me to die after accidentally mortally wounding me, the dark slug flies back on the bed between my legs and assaults Patton again.
In full autonomic flight mode, I straddle the fight to keep it contained. Patton lowers his weight between my legs and holds his attacker above him. As soon as he raises the slug, I slam my beefy legs together and pinch the slick monster between my knees.
Duck! I squeeze. The bug rockets from between my viced legs, a furious birth. It blasts skyward and wedges in the apex of the angled ceiling.
I gurgle victorious in the moment, a little lightheaded from my massive blood loss.
I’m still gonna die.
I’m not gonna let you fucking die.
Patton shifts between my legs. His cold nose tickles my inner thigh way too far up my leg. My body turns cold. Patton grabs a blood-soaked pillow from the side of the bed and throws it at my face.
Put it against your neck. Squeeze it. It’ll help until you get something better.
I comply, squeezing and compressing.
How is this happening? What the fuck is happening?
A burnt, black streak runs down the far side of the ceiling. Back on the ground, the alien beast hides in a dark, angled corner.
Better hurry. Patton grabs two of my long black socks and knots them together. Toss the pillow and tie this around your neck, tight. Get the fuck downstairs. Help is waiting.
Where’s the necklace?
Why the fuck are you still worried about that?
I still want my fang back.
Worn as a memento for the pain Patton endured to keep my Sparks alive, the necklace now glistens in a pile of dirty clothes in the corner by the door. The bug crawls wounded toward it. Not here to kill us directly—it wanted the necklace.
Fuck you, you little snot. That’s mine! Patton leaps after the slug.
I writhe along the frameless bed, now soaked with my blood, and slide onto the floor. One hand pressed to my neck, I crawl with the other on my knees to the shredded door.
Patton and the alien slug wrestle for the necklace amid strewn clothes. A tornado of metal claws, bloody fur, and slimy legs blast through the laundry.
Dragging myself through the ruptured doorway, I reach the stairs. The fire in the stove still burns. Warbling orange light comforts my eyes. Heat warms, numbs. A soft, soprano moan wafts from below the loft. It echoes siren-like off the high vaulted ceiling. Someone else suffers in the living room.
What have you been up to, Patton?
Well, let’s just call it preventative lechery.
Steep wooden stairs plummet below me. A safe descent appears unlikely. Patton grapples with the extraterrestrial larvae, though now only the clothes show movement, the fight hidden far underneath.
Get to the couch, Pops. She’s waiting.
Patton holds the giant slug above him. I know this beast. Before my eyes hangs one of several species of decomposers from a place I thought existed only in my mind, my sanctuary. I created our alien assailant after the first Spark, one of the ideas it spawned before the second Spark, the one convincing me to turn my cat into a killer.
Disbelief staggers me. A hallucination, I tell myself. Too many foreign chemicals working their evil magic in my mind. The hole in my throat prevents me from shaking the image out of my head. No way an alien grew from a seed the Spark gave me as an idea almost ten years ago, manifested from dormant creativity, and emerged from its chrysalis to attack us. It’s just the wind, a slimy, forty-pound, crawling pocket of wind.
My Proxy returns. He smiles and winks.
What the fuck are you so happy about? I ask the phantom fairy in my head.
He releases a silent chuckle and blows on the green, holographic spheres hovering above his hands. They disintegrate, their fragments filling my mind.
Did you just blow fairy dust all over my brain?
He nods and disappears.
What an asshole.
My cabin sanctuary glows green around me. Turquoise photons explode within, tiny dying stars. I kneel at the top of the stairs, my sock-wrapped hands keeping pressure on the socks around my wounded neck. My feet are bare. Behind me, Patton grapples with an alien my Proxy told me to write about. Below, a woman Patton apparently kidnapped moans. The horror of our crisis finally hits me. The cabin has no running water, and I’m out of clean socks.